The European Union’s most senior official has employed the Berlin-based firm to offer advice on her social media profiles, according to reports from Swiss newspaper Aargauer Zeitung. The German’s relationship with Story Machine dates back to last summer when she emerged as a surprise candidate to lead the EU’s Brussels-based executive. As a result of her shock nomination, Mrs von der Leyen required a complete and rapid overhaul of her social media presence.
But her dealings with the company have since been withheld from her transparency declarations, sparking concern amongst anti-corruption campaigners.
Story Machine was founded in 2017 by Kai Diekmann, a former editor-in-chief of German magazine BILD, alongside PR expert Philipp Jessen and Michael Mronz.
Mr Mronz is the widower of former German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, and also a personal acquaintance of Mrs von der Leyen.
They met privately through their shared equestrian passion.
The PR agency has recently become embroiled in controversy after pushing a scientific study about the spread of coronavirus through the German town of Heinsberg.
Its bosses reluctantly revealed they had been paid for it by two firms with the aim of increasing pressure to ease the lockdown.
The Commission claims the firm’s relationship with Mrs von der Leyen is “private” and paid for out of her own pocket.
Story Machine is not involved in the day-to-day content posted by on the EU chief’s social media.
She simply receives feedback from the firm “every few weeks” to ensure her reputation is maintained.
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A spokesman for Mrs von der Leyen said: “The service provider’s contribution is essentially limited to a regular, retrospective view on the personal social media appearance. It is about suggestions for improvement, such as how her personal appearance and range of her posts can be improved.
“The service provider has no influence whatsoever on the political content of the social media presence. It also plays no role in operating the accounts.”
German MEP and transparency activist Sven Giegold said the lack of public information on Mrs von der Leyen’s relationship with Story Machine raised suspicions that she is a “sponsored president”.
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The leader of the German Greens in the EU Parliament called on the Commission chief to end her relationship with the PR agency.
Former EU judge Franklin Dehousse said: “Note Orwell’s Newspeak is alive and well in the Berlaymont.
“This concerns public messages of the most public figure to be put on public websites but the matter is private.”
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